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Posts Tagged ‘monk seal monday’

V76(Thomton)There are numerous ways to positively identify a monk seal, including: 1) Natural bleach marks; 2) Scars; 3) Plastic flipper tags; and 4) Applied bleach marks.

To the untrained eye, one monk seal may look just like another. And, sometimes, even those who have been trained and spent hours, days and weeks observing monk seals confuse one monk seal for another. That’s because not all seals are flipper-tagged and even those that are sometimes lose the plastic identification tags attached to their rear flippers due to breakage. Too, a monk seal’s wounds—say from cookie cutter sharks—heal quite quickly, so a once dependable identifying scar can fade. Even the temporary three-digit “bleach marks,” applied by a trained biologist with the aid of your standard, over-the-counter, hair dye (thanks Clairol!) disappears every year when the seal goes through its annual molt.

The ability to identify individual seals is important for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program to track seals throughout their lifetime to gain information about their movement patterns, survival, reproduction, health, and more.

On Kaua‘i, we regularly see 40 to 50 individual seals that we consider “resident” to the island. While some tend to favor Kaua‘i, we do know many move from island to island throughout the archipelago. Most recently, thanks to these unique ways to identify individual seals, two of those once seen around Kaua‘i have been spotted elsewhere.

R8HE was a juvenile when flipper-tagged here in 2014, but she’s been regularly sighted around O‘ahu and reported as far away as Hawai‘i Island. Earlier this year, she appeared pregnant but then wasn’t seen for a couple months. She popped back up looking very thin, making HMSRP suspect she’d pupped in a remote place somewhere. (This happens even in the Main Hawaiian Islands.)

Too, earlier this year, an adult female started hauling out on the rocks near Brennecke’s Beach in Poipu and was bleach-marked V76. Late last month, she was reported by divers off Hawai‘i Island.

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As we’ve reported, earlier this year, one of Kauai’s regular-pupping moms (RH58) gave birth on Oahu, where she has spent most of her adult life. She pupped on busy Waikiki Beach. With the thousands of people who flock to Waikiki, it was a challenging time for, among others, NOAA’S marine mammal response team, lifeguards on the beach, DLNR’s DOCARE officials, and the many volunteers of the Hawaii Marine Animal Response team. They had to worry about the safety of mom and pup as well as the numerous swimmers, sunbathers, surfers, paddlers, and throngs of people who came out to see the newest member of the Hawaiian monk seal species. Plus, the seals themselves threw in a few of their own unique challenges. In the early days after pupping, RH58 chased off another adult seal or two in shallow water and on the beach. On two occasions, the pup, who came to be known as Kaimana after the beach on which she was born, slipped between the deteriorating walls of and inside the Natatorium. (Her real-time retrieval by the Hawaiian Monk Seal Science Program was recorded by Civil Beat.) She and her mom also scattered beachgoers when hauling out–with pup mouthing the left-behind beach gear–imagine a child’s slipper–of those who’d hastily departed to give the seals room.

Through it all, neither seal nor human was hurt. Thankfully.

The closest thing on Kauai to that kind of scene just might be Poipu Beach. Of late, we’ve had multiple seals–sometimes four and five–hauling out at the same time on this busy beach–resting, playing, and socializing. Frequently one seal will harass several others, forcing them back into the water for a play session that moves from the water aerobics class, to the snorkel area, and then into the keiki pool. These socializing sessions have occurred several times in the course of a single day.

It can be a stressful time for all involved–with vocalizing and flippers, sand, and water flying.

Volunteers have been trained to use the opportunity of people entering and exiting the water to educate them on the presence of the seals and the appropriate response to any interactions between human and seal that may occur. However, volunteers have been trained not to try and interact with people while they are in the water, so as not to create a panic.

The guidance for the public if approached by a monk seal in the water is to either stay motionless and let the seals swim by or to slowly swim away. But to never try to touch or follow a seal.

Here’s a very short clip that shows how close the encounters can be and in shallow water, at that.

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